Hey, all! It’s another Twin Thursday, so be sure to check out my buddy Rachel’s post at Undivinelight!
This week, we’re looking at the rotten side of the beta world. I wish I could say all beta relationships are uniformly positive, but sometimes it’s just not a good matchup. It happens from time to time that either a reader isn’t a good fit for the story or that something in the relationship between you goes sour. Neither’s a good thing. So here’s a few things to watch for to see if a beta may not be working out and how you can let that fishie off the hook.
- Disinterest/vagueness. I put these two together because I find they usually tend to happen at the same time. If a reader’s not interested in your story, they’re not going to be particularly invested in providing you feedback. They might do it out of a sense of obligation or a desire to be helpful, but to be completely honest the notes you’ll get from them will probably not be all that useful. This is when you get comments like, “It was good, I guess,” or “I don’t really remember it well.”
This kind of response is okay; remember, not everyone is going to like your book even after it’s professionally edited and published. Thank the reader for their time and let them know that they don’t have to finish. Before you let them go, see if you can dig a little deeper into the bit of reading they did accomplish. Where did they lose interest? Is it just not their kind of story? Was there not enough action or not enough at stake?
- Aggressiveness. A beta who fights with you or is pushy with their opinions is not one that you want to continue working with. This isn’t the same as a beta saying something you don’t want to hear–sometimes the best notes for the story are the hardest to accept and implement. But if their critiques come across more as insults or if they fight you on the direction you’re taking for the story, it may be time to say goodbye. You’re not writing by committee.
Now, I’m probably the worst person in the world to deal with a pushy beta. I tend to be pretty non-confrontational by nature. I don’t like making people upset. In this case, I usually try to talk it out with the beta first, to say that the behavior’s not appreciated and not helpful. I let them know that, if it continues, I’m booting them from the process. So far, I haven’t had anyone push me hard enough to actually do it? But it does make me feel more comfortable to know I have a backup plan.
- German shepherds. Now, before you go “Whaaaat?”, let me explain. A mentor of mine in grad school had this concept for workshop called a German shepherd. It’s basically when the beta or workshopper reads your story and goes, “Yeah, this would be better with a dog in it.” Even if the story has absolutely nothing to do with dogs. Essentially, it’s when the beta tries to turn your story into something you don’t want it to be. Say, if you were writing a historical romance set during World War II, and they wanted it to be more of an action/adventure a la Valkyrie. Much like the aggressive beta, see first if you can correct the behavior. Ask why it is they think your story would benefit from more X or less Y, and then explain that you don’t want to take it that direction. Usually I find that’s enough to keep a beta on task. Heck, sometimes the dog’s a good one and you might end up working it into a story. But if it becomes a recurring problem, you might ask them to step aside on the project, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
- Inability to give positive feedback. This isn’t the same as wanting them to only give you compliments or to never tell you what needs fixed. I mean people who consistently and steadfastly refuse to look for good things. What the readers like or find well-done is just as important because it helps you hone and perfect those things. Writing is hard enough without getting nothing back but the negative.
If you have a reader who does this, encourage them to use the critique sandwich. This method essentially forces them to give one or two things that they enjoyed, then a few suggestions for improvement, and finish up with a few more things that they enjoyed. It’s not an ideal solution, but it may help a reticent beta actually look for places that your work is successful. If that doesn’t work, it may be time to say goodbye to this fishie. You don’t need that kind of endless negativity.
- Failure to follow directions. This is a biggie. At different stages of the beta process, you’re going to need different kinds of critique. Early on when the story is raw and needs a little TLC, you’re going to need people to give you high-level feedback. General notes and feelings on the story as a whole or individual chapters or scenes. You need people who can look at character arcs and subplots over the course of the story. You’re not going to want sentence-level or nitpicky notes right now. Now, it’ll be a different story once the work is more polished and you want those very exacting critiques, and your betas have to be able to tailor their feedback to fit your needs, or at least to be willing to try.
To be fair, this might just be an issue of miscommunication. But if, after multiple corrections and redirections, it doesn’t seem to be improving, this is another reader you may want to let go. Betas are there to make your job easier; you shouldn’t have to babysit them for that to happen.